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Category: Music

The Process of Learning as an Adult

I’m learning how to play the guitar!  My brother gifted me one of his old guitars – a Fender Squier Acousto-Electric – with a lesson book and DVD, some new picks (red, of course), and a really nice soft-sided case.

The first day back home with my new instrument, I held it in my hands and strummed some with both my fingers and the pick.  Tim, my brother, had tuned it for me so it sounded good but I did not.  Then I popped in the DVD and started, very slowly, working through the first lessons about how to hold the guitar and how to play certain notes using the strings.  Within 10 minutes my usual negative self-talk started – it said things like, “You are too old for this, why did you think this would be fun?” and “Wow, you suck – you’ll never learn this!”  I can be really mean to myself, but I’ve been working on this kind of negative self-talk with both my nutritionist and my therapist over the past year so I knew it for what it was – resistance, fear, and nervousness.

So, I took a break – for one thing, my poor left-hand fingers were getting sore – and put the guitar away, but here’s the thing, and this was huge for me, I picked it back up the next day!  I tried again. I didn’t let those voices get to me.  At least for one day, but they kept getting stronger and I kept feeling more and more stupid and old.  I have 4 decades of being on this planet and countless times where I had no idea what I was doing and needed to learn something and I always want to run away first and I always have to push myself through to get to the wonderful other side.

This time, my 6-year-old son is helping me with this process.  He works so hard going to school, learning new things – I mean, he is in first grade and is learning spelling words, has math tests, and just finished a report – he amazes me every day.  He also is a huge cheerleader for me.  When I play and I hit a wonky note and make a face, he giggles and tells me to try again or gives me a thumbs up or dances around the apartment while I plink out my new notes.  When I’m working out on the weekend and can’t do another set and I’m groaning, he runs into the bedroom and says, “Mommy you can do it!  Keep going!” and then when I’m done he gives me a huge hug.  When he’s at school and I’m doing the hard things, I remember his words and keep going.

Also, I see him struggle and want to give up and run away and I realize this has been the way I have dealt with new things for a while.  When I started singing Cabaret, just me and a piano in a small room in NYC, it was scary – I felt naked up on stage, exposed and raw – and I would finish a song and cry for what felt like hours, but I kept going back because I loved performing and singing for others.  It was hard and I wanted to run away, but I didn’t.  When I started working on my novel and things got hard or scary – I wanted to run away and hide and throw the whole thing in the trash, but I didn’t because I love writing and want my book to find it’s readers.

So I want to change how I deal with things so I can teach him that it’s okay to try, to fail, to fall down and get back up and try again, to keep going just because it’s fun, or you want to learn, without any other reason.  Yes, he has to go to school because it’s the law – but I want him to learn to love the process of learning and to do that I have to learn the process of learning.  For today, that means picking up the guitar even if I feel silly, even if I have fear and want to run away, even if I’m afraid it will never be “perfect” – because screw that! I want to have fun!!

What new things are you learning? Or do you run away from newness and learning and that horrible feeling of not perfect?  What do you want to learn?  Maybe we can help each other out – maybe we can be cheerleaders for each other and keep us on the “we’re doing this because it’s fun” path!


Newsies vs. Newsies

One of my favorite movie musicals is the 1992 Newsies with Christian Bale, Max Casella (Vinnie from Doogie Howser, MD), David Moscow, Bill Pullman, Ann-Margaret (!!!), and Robert Duvall.  I must have seen that thing at least 3 times in the movie theatre. I won a copy of the soundtrack on tape by entering a trivia contest. I knew all the words to all the songs and even some of the dance moves.  Is it a perfect movie?  No, it’s silly and melodramatic and although Christian is dreamy his singing and dancing are less than stellar, but he tried.  So when I heard they were making a Broadway version a few years back that didn’t surprise me at all.  It’s flashy with cute dancers, catchy songs, and girls my age LOVED it so it had a built-in audience.

Now, even though I live right here in NY I never made it to the actual show on Broadway, so when I saw that it was now available to watch on Netflix I was pretty excited…until I watched it.  Now, don’t get me wrong – I didn’t hate it, it just wasn’t the 1992 movie.  I felt like they had changed too much – some made sense and some had me yelling at my TV, wondering what Harvey Fierstein (who wrote the book for the Broadway show) was thinking.

Let me preface all of this by saying two things.  If you’ve never seen Newsies (the original movie) – you’re missing out.  Cute boys, singing and dancing in period costumes, little guys going after big guys, union talk, love and family – it’s got everything!  2nd thing – if you loved Newsies and Broadway, watch the show on Netflix.  It’s not terrible – the original songs are great, the leads are all really talented and can sing and dance (circles around most of the big name actors in the movie) and overall it’s fun and was filmed live during an actual performance so you get the awesomeness of Broadway and live theatre while sitting in your PJs on the couch.  Also…there are major spoilers in this post so if you do plan on watching the Broadway production and don’t want to know anything beforehand – stop reading, turn on Netflix, enjoy a good show, then come back.  

Okay, with all of that out of the way…here’s my Newsies vs. Newsies account.  Right off the bat, with the Broadway production – they start off with Jack Kelly, our hero, singing about Santa Fe, which I thought made absolutely NO SENSE unless you’ve seen the original movie because the show takes place in NYC – entirely in NYC.  Why do we open a show about NY newsboys singing about a whole other city that’s not in the show?  Yes, the song Santa Fe is in the original movie, but the placement here – of moving a song that’s what 2nd or 3rd on the soundtrack, to the number 1 slot made no sense.  That made me shake my head for at least the first 20 minutes of the production.  

The one change that they made, that I at least understand, was they made the love interest and the news reporter the same person in this show.  In the original movie, Jack falls in love with his new best friend’s sister while having dinner at his house one night – there’s also an older reporter, played by Bill Pullman, that writes their story and gets the news about the newsboy strike out to other people.  If you count the parents, that’s four characters that would need to be cast and paid for – so, sure, turn the reporter into the woman – give her more to do (bonus!) and have her fall for Jack while they’re on the “job” basically – again, bonus, I love it!  It did make the song King of New York a bit awkward (as she’s a woman) but I could look past that honestly.

Now…here comes my big complaint and my biggest spoiler.  In the original movie, Jack and his friends sneak in and use an old printing press of Joseph Pulitzer’s to create their Newsboy union paper and get the word out about child labor.  It’s my absolute favorite song of the movie and I swear, I want to get up and dance and sing full out every time I hear it. So…maybe this is me just being protective – but in the Broadway production, instead of Jack knowing where the press is, the reporter woman knows the press is there because…hold the phone…she’s Pulitzer’s daughter.  What?!?!  Come on, is that even historically accurate?  And then…out of nowhere, all these other newspaper kids come in – William Randolph Hearst’s son is there and knows exactly what to do and he’ll fix everything.  I wasn’t a fan of this.  At all.  Like…I even went and looked up reviews to see if I was the only one annoyed by this and apparently I was because this little tidbit wasn’t mentioned in any review.   So…I digress there.  But seriously, the YouTube clip below is the original number – watch it, love it, be it! 🙂

It left an odd taste in my mouth for the rest of the movie, but…overall, I enjoyed the production.  I would watch it again – and probably will because the songs are catchy, the dance moves are fun, and the Broadway actors are top notch performers.  They made me root for them, laugh with them, cry with them (poor Crutchy!), and want to dance around my apartment singing for days.  They did their job!  I just wish they would have left out the weird…oh, by the way, I’m your enemy’s daughter and now it’s Romeo and Juliet thing.  No!

The other thing…and I just realized this yesterday after re-watching the 1992 movie, but Ann-Margaret’s songs are completely gone and replaced by a whole new one.  It’s a good song, and the Broadway performer is really great – but I’m wondering now if Ann-Margaret owned those original songs from the movie or if Harvey just decided they were too familiar with Ann-Margaret because of the movie and the Meadowlark on Broadway is very different.  Not sure…but both work, the character isn’t seen as much in the Broadway production and I had wished they would have left the big rally number in, but again, this is a change that made sense for time and energy – they would have needed a whole new set piece, a new song, more dancing and a fight sequence which would have cost time and money.

So it seems like I’m totally ripping on the Broadway production, and I swear I’m not – the original movie is so much a part of my teenage years and I hold a special place in my heart that it’s hard to see something new and different with the same general pieces.  I love the original movie, but I also liked the Broadway production.  Would I have enjoyed it more seeing it live, maybe – maybe not, I might have been more pissed off that I spent good money and was disappointed at the changes.  Or maybe I would have looked past the changes made because live theatre is so immersive and fun in and of itself.  We will never know.  I’m just thankful that people are filming live theatre and making it accessible to everyone.  That’s always a good thing in my book.

What’s your favorite movie musical?  Or favorite Broadway musical? What show are you hoping they film and make accessible to everyone?  My hope is Hamilton (of course) and Wicked – although I heard a movie is coming..anyone else hear that?  Do you love Newsies?  Did you see the Broadway production, either live or on Netflix, what did you think?  Let me know in the comments and remember to keep Carrying the Banner!

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Behind the Scenes: Music and My Writing Process

In one of my writing groups over on Facebook, there was a discussion not too long ago about music and writing. I was seriously surprised that so many of the writers (many self-published professionals) don’t listen to music while they work…I have a hard time not listening to music during certain parts of my process. And that got me thinking – what is my actual writing process and how does music play a part in that?

Ideas and Brainstorming

When I’m first thinking up an idea, brainstorming all the What If’s for a character or plot idea, or just general daydreaming I sometimes need music and sometimes not. This morning I was working on a character arc for my current project and I could hear my husband’s radio in the other room (quietly) but I had no music on in the bedroom where I was, but the other day when I was just sitting and staring and thinking, I had music on. This stage of my process can really go either way and depends on my mood that day.

First Draft

I need music. Non-negotiable, no two ways about it – can’t write the first draft in quiet. For first drafts, I need music – all kinds of music, totally different kinds of music. Pop, 1990s Alternative, Broadway soundtracks, 80s new wave, 70s disco, you name it, I have probably listened to it. I don’t have certain playlists for different novels or projects, I choose a style based on how I’m feeling that day, or maybe how the scene needs to play out. Louder metal-type music for the big scenes, love songs for the romantic scenes, etc. I definitely need music though when I’m putting words to paper.


I need quiet – like seriously, could hear a pin drop, quiet. I need to concentrate, hear my own thoughts, and really narrow in on the problems in front of me. This is usually the stage I need to close the door to the bedroom too, so I don’t hear the TV or radio in another room or get distracted by others in the apartment. Quiet and my brain, that’s it.

Planning or Marketing

Probably music. For example, I’m currently doing some marketing and planning for the launch of my novel (hopefully this fall/winter) and I’m writing the stuff that goes in the front and back of the book (dedication, acknowledgements, copyright, etc) and working on my blurb – the cool story description that accompanies my book to entice people to read it (because it’s awesome!) and I definitely need music for these tasks. But if I’m researching something about marketing and reading articles, I might need quiet.

Most of these only work with longer projects. When I’m writing these posts, for example, I usually listen to music or have the TV on with no issues. When I need to concentrate on one part or brainstorm something I might mute the TV or dim the music, but overall I need background noise.

So, tell me…do you use music when you write or work on projects? What do you listen to? Do you have playlists or just use Amazon Music or another streaming service like I do? And if you’re a singer like me, does having music on help or hinder you? Sometimes I find myself singing along and getting caught up in the song instead of writing, but sometimes I hear the perfect lyric and it fuels my next scene and gives me that little extra push….it all depends.


Muse? Muse? Where are you Muse?

I’m stuck and feeling bored. I’m tired of revising my novel. I’m tired of not writing new words. I’m fed up and my muse has all but left me alone and desperate. I feel like a bad writer and I want to just give up. 
Luckily for me, I have amazing supporters. My mom and husband have both listened to me cry, bitch, and moan about this book for years. I love the main character, love the plot, the twists, and especially love the setting…but I’m starting to get anxiety when I come to the table to actually work.  Mom and Bradley have both told me the same thing, gently – Jennifer, take a break. Don’t throw it out, but push it aside for a bit.
I wanted to throw the thing away, but they were right, I just need a break. I need some time to have fun, rediscover my muse, rediscover my love of writing because lately it’s been felt like drudgery.  So….now comes the question: how to find my muse.
I’ve come up with 5 things I think I’ll try in the next few months:
1. Writing Exercises
I plan on using my tarot cards and some stuff I’ve found on the internet to help me come up with some different characters and plot lines for some short story ideas. I also want to use some pictures I’ve found on Pinterest to just write…for fun…for no other reason than to describe something, learn something, discover something.
2. Walking and Yoga
Now that the weather is feeling more like Spring, I want to get out and walk – we’ve lived in this part of Queens for almost five years and I still don’t know much about it. That’s sad. Also, my yoga practice is a great way for me to be quiet and listen to my body. Maybe my muse needs to be coaxed out a bit.
3. Other artsy stuff
I was a theatre major, but haven’t done much singing or acting in a long time on an actual stage but since finding the Hamilton soundtrack on Amazon prime music I’ve been listening and singing and acting out the show non-stop for days.  I feel more alive, more in touch with who I used to be. I also have some crafty type projects lined up – like finishing my son’s baby book (he’ll be 5 in September) and my wedding/honeymoon scrapbook (we have our 10 year anniversary coming up) to complete. 
4. Meditation
Like yoga, I’m hoping mindful breathing and visualization can help me chill out, become more mellow, and achieve a “go with the flow” type attitude about my novel and my writing career.
5. People
I think I also need to be around people more often. I work from home, just me and my computer all day long. I have a new day job, but it’s all online, virtual assistant…but that doesn’t mean I have to stay home. I can head out to Starbuck’s or St. Louis Bread Company (okay, here it’s called Panera’s…but I’m a St. Louis girl at heart still), ordering a latte and a muffin and write or work right? I’ve never tried this so it makes me nervous, but I think just being around other people, looking at them also working and eating might help me.

So…what else should I try? What do you guys do when you start feeling this way? Or….please don’t let this be true….am I the only one who gets this way sometimes? 
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Captain Tight Pants

So, I’ve somewhat left childish things behind me (except, you know Disney) but not crushes. Cute boys grow up to be handsome men – ruggedly handsome, that is. Growing up, I crushed on Joey Lawrence – had pictures of him on my binders and watched his shows, listened to his music – all the things you do when crushing on a celebrity.
Things haven’t changed that much. My current celebrity crush is Nathan Fillion.

Yes, I’m happily married….trust me, my hubby is aware of said crush…and encourages it…well, maybe not encourages it but he likes the man too and we watch Firefly and Castle together…so you know, he’s a keeper. 🙂

I watch the shows and movies (not all of them – I haven’t seen Slither) and listen to the music. What? He sings….check out Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog by the one and only Joss Whedon. I’ve watched him in Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place. I’ve watched him in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (that one’s hard though – he plays such an evil bastard). I’ve watched Firefly and Serenity. I’ve watched Waitress. I’ve watched Monster’s University (he does a voice) and I’ve watched Guardians of the Galaxy and tried to find him (he plays a big blue galoot in the jail who gets taken down by Groot). 
Oh….and I have him my Filofax.

Yup. I found that picture online and thought it was perfect. Printed it out and plopped it into my binder. I told you, things haven’t changed much. I also have a picture of David Tennant as Doctor Who telling me to write too.  He’s on the top 5 list too. You know, from Friends…the top 5 celebrities you’re allowed to have sex with.  Nathan Fillion, David Tennant, Matthew Perry, Joey Lawrence, and Paul Rudd. Unlike Ross, I don’t have my list printed and laminated though.

My childhood celebrity crush post was a bit embarrassing, so….here goes my huge secret….I follow Nathan on Instagram/Facebook and check his status every few days to see if he’s posted anything cool. I like things, but never comment…because if we ever actually meet in real life, I don’t want to be one of those people. HA  That’s pretty sad right?

Okay…fess up, who are you currently crushing on? Do you obsessively watch their shows and movies? Check fan sites? Write fan fiction? Give it to me….can’t be any more embarrassing than what I’ve shared.  
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I Could Have Been Jennifer Lawrence

I want this blog to a friendship of sorts between you, my sweet readers, and me, the crazy writer. One of the first questions I tend to ask a new friend is: Who was your first celebrity crush?  It’s an amazing conversation starter. So…I’ll tell you mine, but only if you promise to tell me yours in the comments, deal? Deal!
I was a child of the 80’s and a teenager of the 90s – the decades of bad hair and odd fashion choices – and my first celebrity crush was on Joey Lawrence. Whoa! 
It all started with Gimme a Break when he was only 8 years old and it grew stronger during Blossom when he released an album. Oh, yes, he was multitalented. Actor, Singer, Dancer…he had the whole package. (Wink wink). I had pictures of him on my bulletin board and all over my school binders. To be fair and honest, he shared those places with Scott Bakula, Jeremy Miller (from Growing Pains), and a very young Jason Bateman…but Joey was the first and longest crush. 
In fact, I was still watching him on my TV when Melisa and Joey was on ABC Family, but that got canceled not too long ago. I also still listen to his CDs and sing along loudly every time (I dare you to watch that clip above…it’s his biggest hit!). I remember dancing around my bedroom or dorm room (yup, still loved him when I went away to college) using a hair brush as a microphone. I’ve been there through long hair, no hair, fake (?) hair – who cares!   Have you seen how tight his jeans are?
Especially on Brotherly Love….and no, you don’t remember the show because it lasted all of two seasons I think and was preempted every week for football…or at least it seemed like it at the time. Anyways, this show was on for a hot second and had all three Lawrence brothers – Joey, Matthew, and little Andy (sooooo stinking cute!)  No one remembers this show except me and my Mom, who dutifully watched it with me every week. Thanks lady!
Oh…and I even met them. Well, Joey twice and the other two brothers once. These are embarrassing stories I’m about to share…so pull the chair up closer and get ready. I stood in line at the ripe age of 16 with my sister, actually – she dropped me off and went across the street to a computer store – to get Joey’s autograph when he was doing a Kmart tour across the country for his debut album. HOT!   And then later, when Brotherly Love was first on, the brothers did a tour and came through St. Louis so I once again stood in line to get their autographs. And here’s the most embarrassing thing, when Joey asked me my name for the headshot autograph, I couldn’t remember it. Totally forgot my name. Idiot!

Okay, so I’ve completely embarrassed myself and bared my soul so now it’s your turn…first celebrity crush and have you met them in person?  Any funny stories?  Dish and let’s revel in our childish fantasies shall we?  In a few weeks, I’ll tell you about my current celebrity crush…because the embarrassment never stops.
PS – I totally loved looking at all the YouTube clips linked and shared here, and I found one of Joey’s albums in Amazon Prime (which I usually listen to while working)…score!
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Believe or Not…I’m Walking on Air

Friends, Cheers, MASH, Golden Girls, Facts of Life, and Greatest American Hero (see title – and YouTube clip). What do these shows have in common? Memorable theme songs. Even though MASH didn’t use the lyrics (suicide is painless didn’t really fit the show) the song is hummable.

What happened to theme songs? Some new shows have them, like Community, New Girl, and Psych, but most of the times they’re short – very short. New Girl especially. Who’s that Girl? It’s Jess! That’s it most times, although there is a slightly longer version. Psych does this too – they have a short version and a longer version.

I’m partial to theme songs. I have…let me count…six CDs dedicated only to TV theme songs. And when I did my solo cabaret show six years ago my musical director, Steven Ray Watkins, my director, Lennie Watts, and I came up with an amazing TV theme song medley which started with the entire song from Facts of Life and ended with the entire song from Golden Girls. It was my favorite part of my show, and I loved everything about my show (thanks guys!), but every night when I got to the TV part I felt alive, I felt electric.

Want to know my favorite theme song? My absolute favorite? It will surprise you. Perfect Strangers. Yup, that silly show with Balki and Cousin Larry (see YouTube clip #2). I adore it and it’s message. It’s called Nothing’s Gonna Stop Me Now and it’s only 1 minute and 15 seconds long, but I love it. My favorite part: Standing tall on the wings of my dream. Rise and fall on the wings of my dream. The rain and thunder, the clouds and haze, I’m bound for better days.

It’s uplifting and I sing along at the tops of my lungs every time I play it. It makes me happy and gives me courage to keep trying. To stand tall on the wings of my dream.

So, the next time you’re feeling blah – throw on a TV theme song – see what happens. You might even want to throw your hat up in the air when you’re done.
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